Writer: Susan Hill
Publishing House: Vintage Digital
Date of Publication: April 5th 2012 (first published September 12th 1975)
Rating: 5 stars
‘’There was no sound tonight from the owls in the copse, over to the left of the cottage, no storring in the trees themselves.’’
This was a very difficult review to write. Even if the words were dictated via a miraculous medium, they would still feel shallow and inadequate to describe my feelings for a novel that made me numb and sad and you know that I am not a sentimental person at all. And how can I relate to the dark moment of losing the one person with whom you decided to share your life? When death tears down the construction that two people built with joy, hope, love and trust? My purpose with this review is to pay a small homage to one of the most quietly powerful novels I’ve ever read.
Ruth is a young woman living in a quaint English town. Her husband, Ben, dies in a horrible accident and her world crumbles to pieces. She experiences the feeling of absolute emptiness and numbness in her own way and her only comfort is her assurance that Ben is always with her. However, her grief doesn’t meet the standards of Ben’s family or the residents of the village. She’s not loud enough or sad enough of devastated enough. The only person who stands on her side is Jo, Ben’s younger brother, a sensitive and wise teenager.
Hill succeeds in creating a moving story without resorting to melodrama or cheap sentimentality. She narrates the numbness of loss, the despair of staying behind, the strange feeling that there is nothing ahead in evocative, poetic, haunting prose. In this novel, the reader will find a number of immensely beautiful descriptions of the natural environment, the cottage, the picturesque rural England. I could feel as if I were there from the very first pages. Susan Hill creates so many vivid scenes. The Good Friday evening with the decoration of the graves, the Easter Sunday, the spring nights, the autumn days are written in a language full of quiet beauty. For me, the most intense moment was the most poetic, tragically beautiful description of a death premonition, of the foreboding of sudden loss I’ve ever read. How can I not be moved by such powerful writing? On a side note here, I never, ever comment on other reviewers’ opinions but I read a single sentence ‘’review’’ by a user who wrote that she/he wanted to cut her/his neck after reading this novel. Well, I say that there’s an idiot in every corner these days, eh? You will allow me the remark because not liking something is one thing and absolutely respectable. Calling names and being disrespectful as f— is an issue I can’t be silent about.
I loved Ruth’s character. Even though I’ve not been through a similar experience, I could relate to and understand her pain. A young couple living in a beautiful corner of the country suddenly torn apart by death. What could be more tragic and unjust? Ruth has a deep inner strength even in the moments when despair takes over. Her dignity and quiet pain lend a haunting beauty to her character. However, I feel that the real jewel of the novel is Jo. A sensitive boy, wise beyond his years, trying to cope with a highly dysfunctional family. A horrible, egoistic mother, a coward father, a selfish sister. Ruth and nature are his sole shelters and he has to turn from a child to a man after Ben’s death.
This isn’t a book that needs many words of praise. Give it a chance and experience a quiet, beautiful study of the most humane of feelings, the feeling of despair and the dawning of hope. Forget melodramatic writers who write novels as if they’re Hallmark screenplays and let yourselves enjoy the power of Susan Hill’s writing.
‘’Τhey used to say that the birds all stopped singing, for those three hours. That everything went quiet, except for the wind.’’